Bunting, Tingle, Weistling elected in Fenwick

Fenwick Island has three new town council members set to come in at an Aug. 18 reorganizational meeting. With 266 votes cast at the polls on Aug. 5 and another 59 absentee-ballot votes counted, voters elected Gardner Bunting, Diane Tingle and Bill Weistling Jr. to two-year terms on the council.

They will replace outgoing Mayor Peter Frederick and Council Members Harry Haon and Vicki Carmean, who opted not to run for re-election in 2006. Haon retired after 15 years on the council, while Carmean and Frederick didn’t rule out a future return to Fenwick Island politics.

The vote among the top three vote-getters was a close one, with Bunting receiving 214 total votes (178 cast in-person and 36 by absentee ballot); Tingle coming in second with 208 (166 machine votes, 42 absentee ballots); and Weistling just three votes behind, at 205 (170 machine votes and 35 absentee ballots).

Candidate Todd Smallwood — favored with a solid showing on many ballots — received 119 machine votes and 27 absentee ballot votes (146 total), while Forrest Boettcher received 69 machine votes and four on absentee ballots (73 total).

All five candidates staked out the polling place at Fenwick Island Town Hall during the polling hours of 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, braving the continuing heat wave but determined to be ready to shake hands, introduce themselves and answer any questions from their constituents.

Tingle noted that turnout had been light all day. And Weistling and Smallwood both commented that questions had been few and far between, with voters seemingly having made up their minds before heading to the polls that day, whether on the basis of names, a meet-the-candidates event last month or the Coastal Point question-and-answer series that appeared prior to election day.

Still, the five were ready to promote their candidacies, with Gardner and Tingle even sporting T-shirts recommending themselves to voters and Tingle passing along the wishes of her grandson Parker — clad in the same style and pictured on her handouts — to have his grandmother elected.

After the polls closed at 5 p.m., election commissioners, with town staffers Patricia Schuchman and Donna Schwartz, counted the absentee ballots and tallied them with the machine-vote results. They cross-checked recorded property-owner logs with individual records of eligible spouses and family members, to ensure all the votes were legitimate. All were certified and counted.

In the end, Parker Tingle got his wish, with voters electing Bunting and Tingle — two members of the Town Manager Search Committee and both also FAR opponents — in the top spots. Charter and Ordinance Committee Member and Building Commissioner Weistling, who helped draft FAR, got the nod for the third seat.

Tingle’s husband, Clarence “Bud” Tingle Jr., who himself serves on Selbyville’s town council, celebrated the results with her at town hall. The couple called friends and family to spread the good news, while Selbyville Town Administrator Gary Taylor — who also recently consulted on the possible hiring of a town manager for Fenwick Island — cruised by to check on the results.

Bud Tingle, asked if the strain of two council members in the same family might be too much for the couple, answered with a laugh and to the contrary. “Now I can retire,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. Tingle, for her part, said with equal ease that her husband had already learned through the years to give her advice only when she asked for it.

Bunting preserved his part in the election for posterity, taking photos of the official posting of results as he accepted the congratulations of those on hand.

But even before the polls had closed, some of the candidates had already been thinking about potential actions that might be upcoming for the new council. The most frequently mentioned were budget cuts, fresh on the heels of a 6-1 vote by the current council to adopt a budget that again pulled from transfer-tax reserves (if less so than in previous years) to balance the budget.

The council members will have to balance a sense that citizens are satisfied with town services against concerns about the long-term future of and reliance upon non-recurring sources of income such as real estate transfer tax — a notable source that has fallen off significantly this year.

FAR may also be on some minds, as the new council’s makeup could shift the narrow balance against the ordinance if council members choose to take it up again in the near future.

Between those who opposed FAR in principle, those who didn’t agree with some elements of the new ordinance and those who felt it should come only as part of an overall comprehensive plan for the town, the new council would hold enough votes to repeal the ordinance and perhaps try again. Alternatively, changes to the ordinance as adopted could also be drafted for passage in the future.

Also up in the air after the election is the immediate future of the town’s principle leadership post. With Frederick and Haon not having sought re-election this time out, there is no incumbent mayor or vice-mayor and council members will have to start from scratch at their scheduled Aug. 18 reorganizational meeting.

In addition to the three new council members, leadership could also be conferred on any of the incumbent members, Chris Clark, Audrey Serio, Theo Brans and Martha Keller.

The council will also have to decide how to proceed with recommendations to hire a town manager for Fenwick Island and thus take some of the responsibility off the shoulders of the council members.

Some citizens have expressed concern about the expense involved at a time of fiscal unease, but council members have generally favored the idea as an overall cost-cutting and efficiency measure. And two members of the committee that strongly recommended the shift to a town manager will now be serving as council members.

Committee facilitator Buzz Henefin notably suggested at the most recent council meeting that the committee running the hiring phase of the town manager search be reformulated, fearing its original makeup would be too heavy with council members if Gardner and Tingle both won.

The council will also have that decision facing it after new members are sworn in and hear the traditional lecture on municipal government from Town Solicitor Tempe Steen on Aug. 18. They are scheduled for a full report from the search committee after that meeting.